What is Cholesterol?

Being young, teenagers hardly think about cholesterol. For them, cholesterol is just some ingredient in the foods that they eat.

They are right though, in way. Some teenagers’ most favorite foods are practically swimming in cholesterol.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a wax-like thing that is produced by the liver and is also found in some foods. Cholesterol is needed in manufacturing certain hormones and vitamin D, build cell walls and make bile salts that help digest fat. The body produces all the cholesterol it needs so you won’t have to eat cholesterol-rich foods. Then again, it’s hard to avoid cholesterols because so many foods have them.

Lipids

Lipids are fats found throughout the body. Cholesterol is a type of lipid that is commonly found in foods from animal sources. These include: meats, eggs and whole-fat dairy products. Fruits and veggies on the other hand, do not contain cholesterol.

The liver produces 1,000 mg of cholesterol per day, and you consume about 150-250 mg more from the foods you eat.

Cholesterols can’t travel alone through the bloodstream so they combine with certain proteins, which pick them up and ship them to different parts of the body. The cholesterol-protein combination forms a lipoprotein.

The two types of lipoproteins are called LDL or low-density lipoproteins, and HDL or high-density lipoproteins.

HDL is the "good cholesterol" because of their different effects on the body.

Most cholesterol however, is LDL, the "bad cholesterol." They block blood vessels which keep blood from flowing to through the body like it’s supposed to.

Why do people worry about high cholesterol?

When LDL levels are high, it means cholesterol collects on the walls of the arteries, forming a hard substance called plaque. Overtime, the buildup causes the arteries to become narrower, decreasing blood flow. This condition is called atherosclerosis.

When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries, this condition is called coronary heart disease, which puts a person at risk for heart attack.

When atherosclerosis affects the blood vessels that supply the brain, the condition is called cerebral vascular disease. This puts a person at risk for a stroke.

Atherosclerosis may also affect other vital organs such as the kidneys and intestines.

What causes high LDL cholesterol?

Excess weight – being overweight has long been associated to high cholesterol levels.

Diet – a diet that is high in cholesterol, trans fat and saturated fat raises LDL levels and increases your risks of developing heart disease.

Physical activity – lack of physical exercise increases LDL levels which also increase your chances of developing heart disease.

Age – the risks of high cholesterol increases with age.

Heredity – a family history of cholesterol problems or heart disease puts you at an increased risk for having heart disease.

How you can lower cholesterol

It is important to maintain low cholesterol levels, especially if you have a family history of cholesterol or heart problems. To keep your cholesterol levels low, follow these tips:

Your diet should contain low-cholesterol foods which include fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes and fish.

Your diet should also be low in saturated and trans fat. Go for unsaturated fats instead. A good source of unsaturated fats in olive oil.

If you like meat, opt for lean or white meat such as skinless poultry. When preparing, trim all noticeable fats. After browning meats, drain all the fat from the pan.

When preparing foods, try boiling, broiling, baking, roasting, poaching, steaming, or sautéing instead of frying.

For dairy products, go for low-fat or nonfat milk, low-fat or nonfat cheeses, yogurts, etc. Substitute cream cheese or sour cream with low-fat buttermilk or yogurt when cooking.

Use trans-fat-free margarine. Or better yet, go for liquid vegetable oils instead of margarine or butter. Avoid products that contain hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Snack on healthy foods like fruits, veggies and low-fat dips, low-fat cookies, unsalted pretzels, low-fat yogurt or gelatin. Avoid commercially prepared baked goods which  are usually made with hydrogenated oils or trans fats.